After 8 days off since Rutgers crushed rival Seton Hall in front of the largest crowd at the RAC in 17 years, it was fair to wonder if a letdown on Sunday against one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country was coming. Instead, the Scarlet Knights showed great maturity, focus and defensive intensity to jump out to a commanding 17-0 lead over 8 minutes into the game. They never looked back and defeated Lafayette (7-3) by the final score of 63-44.
Lafayette came into the contest third in the nation shooting 42.9% from three-point range, but went 0 for 8 from the behind the arc in the first half. The length and ball pressure of RU was a major factor. Rutgers also struggled from deep as well, making just 1 of 7 from three, but pounded the paint and started 14 of 15 from two-point range. The Leopards went to a 2-3 zone, but Paul Mulcahy and Myles Johnson in particular, shredded it at will. It led to a dominate 27-6 lead that resulted in a 33-13 score at the half.
RU made just 1 of 9 shots to end the opening frame, but still shot 52% and held Lafayette to just 25% from the floor. The Scarlet Knights, as expected, dominated inside, holding a +9 rebounding margin and 22-10 advantage with points in the paint. Myles Johnson led the way with 8 points on 4 of 4 from the floor and 7 rebounds.
After the break, Rutgers started on a 9-3 run to lead 42-16 at the first TV timeout of the second half. Lafayette’s Justin Jaworski hit the first three-pointer of the game for the visitors, breaking an 0 fo 10 start. Jaworski came into the game averaging 20.7 points and shooting 47.3% from behind the arc, but struggled all day and finished with just 13 points on 5 of 13 shooting, although he did make 3 of 7 from three. He was the only player for Lafayette to score in double figures. He also committed a game high 6 turnovers, as he felt the defensive pressure the entire game.
Rutgers led 55-27 with just under 9 minutes remaining in the game before Lafayette rattled off a 12-2 run to make it 59-41 with 3:14 left. The final score was 63-44.
Myles Johnson was unstoppable in the interior and led the way with 18 points on 9 of 11 shooting, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks. His confidence continues to grow, which is so important heading into the new year. He also committed zero fouls in the game.
Paul Mulcahy brought energy and smart offensive play off the bench, finishing with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting, along with 5 assists and 0 turnovers. He also had 4 steals. Geo Baker was the only other Rutgers player to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points on 5 of 13 shooting, as well as 2 assists.
As a team, Rutgers shot 48% from the floor despite struggling from three-point range, making just 1 of 9 shots. After starting 1 of 7 in the opening minutes of the game from deep, Pikiell wisely put a halt to attempts from behind the arc and instilled a focus on attacking the rim. It resulted in a 46-16 advantage with points in the paint for the game. Rutgers dominated the boards as well with a +17 rebounding margin.
The Scarlet Knights held Lafayette to just 31% shooting and only 28% from three-point range (7 of 25). While they forced 21 turnovers, the biggest negative in Sunday’s performance was Rutgers committed 18 turnovers of its own against a team that is not strong in forcing takeaways. However, it was a good performance overall and the start this team produced showed how focused they are at taking the next step in becoming a winning team this season.
RU is now 9-0 at the RAC this season and 7-0 when holding opponents under 60 points per game.
Up next, Rutgers waits another 8 days until hosting Division II Caldwell (5-5), who beat Division I Norfolk State by 10 points. It’s important for this team to continue take advantage of so much practice time in order to improve as much as possible before Big Ten play resumes after the New Year. At 9-3 with KenPom and NET rankings in the mid-50’s (55th & 53rd respectively at the start of Sunday), Rutgers has an opportunity to challenge for the postseason if they can continue to play the way they have of late on the defensive end. They ride a three game winning streak into the holiday before hosting Caldwell on December 30th.